Phoenix and Tampa Bay were recommended by baseball's expansion committee Tuesday night to receive major league franchises.

The teams would start play in 1998 if owners approve the recommendation. Expansion committee chairman John Harrington said he hopes a vote can be taken Thursday.The committee didn't announce its decision, but two members of the committee, speaking on the condition they not be identified, confirmed the choices to The Associated Press.

The pricetag is expected to be $140 million apiece and the teams are expected to be named the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The teams would become the 29th and 30th in the major leagues. Owners said it was possible the franchises wouldn't be assigned to leagues until later.

If one team is added to both the American and National leagues, it would necessitate the start of interleague play.

One group from Orlando, Fla., and two from northern Virginia also were seeking franchises. The five groups that made 30-minute presentations to the expansion committee said they weren't discouraged by baseball's constant labor battles.

``I don't want this to sound trite, but it can't get any worse,' said Phoenix Suns president Jerry Colangelo, who leads the group from his area. ``It can only get better. I think it's bottomed out.'

Vincent Naimoli, head of the Florida group, wanted to call his team the Stingrays, but the Hawaiian Winter League team in Maui already owns that name.

Owners said they must press ahead with a decision because of the deadline faced by Colangelo's group. Maricopa County approved $253 million of funding for a $275 million retractable-roof stadium, but the funding will expire unless a franchise is granted by April 1.

The northern Virginia group headed by Bill Collins may get a team in the second round of expansion, which isn't expected before 2000. Collins' group, which also owns the Greensboro Bats, had asked that if it isn't awarded a team for the first wave, that it be designated now for the later expansion.

``That certainly was part of our presentation to major league baseball,' said Collins, who would call his team the Virginia Fury.

CROWD PLEASERS: Elsewhere in exhibition baseball, replacement baseball finally drew some fans Tuesday. There were 4,287 fans in the stands at Fort Myers, Fla., to watch Boston beat New York 1-0, including fans who bought tickets the day of the game. There were lines to enter the stadium as late as the third inning.

But elsewhere, crowds remained sparse as players came, went and made scorecards mandatory.

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